SFP Calls for College Divestment in Israel

Elizabeth Dobbins, Staff Writer

Students for a Free Palestine is currently attempting to garner support for a petition requesting Oberlin’s divestment from six companies perceived to be involved in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The six companies — Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Group 4 Securicor, SodaStream, Elbit Systems and Veolia — profit from activities associated with the Israeli occupation.

“[Divestment] is a tactic that has been used many times in the past,” said College senior Melanie Malinas. “Oberlin College divested from South Africa [in] 1988 — kind of late, actually, compared to other schools … We’re hoping that we can be a bit more of a … leader in this movement than we were then.”

In 2005, a Palestinian Civil Society group issued a statement in opposition to the occupation using boycotts, divestment and sanctions [BDS]. It took several years for news of this call to spread, but since then major national and international groups have divested, including the U.S. Presbyterian Church, African National Congress, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global and the World Council of Churches. College senior and SFP member Lucia Anne Kalinosky stressed the importance of Palestinian solidarity groups supporting this divestment strategy.

“For us, as a solidarity organization, [Palestinian Civil Society’s call for BDS is] a really important kind of document because it’s quite literally a directive coming … from the group we’re supposed to be in solidarity with, so it’s kind of an obvious tactic in that way,” Kalinosky said. “We also feel BDS is an effective strategy and a good tool for education.”

SFP hopes to first build support in the Oberlin community before asking the ad- ministration to divest.

“Our long-term goal is to have Oberlin change its investment policy through the investment committee of the Board of Trustees,” said College senior Hannah Elhard. “Our goal for this semester is to ideally go to Student Senate and get its support. That will be later this semester, because we’d like to have as much demonstrated student body support, community support [and] organization support [as possible].”

Already, several on-campus organizations have announced their support including the Multicultural Resource Center, the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People, the South Asian Student Association, the Student Labor Action Coalition and the Oberlin Queer Wellness Coalition.

The Responsible Investing Organization issued a statement of their support for the divestment campaign in the Review last week endorsing SFP’s “investment activism that seeks to hold Oberlin accountable for the detrimental implications of some of its financial investments.” This petition, however, has not been met with universal support. J Street U is a national organization with an active chapter at Oberlin.

On its national website, J Street U identifies as a group of “pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans,” interested in encouraging discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Noa Fleischacker, co-chair of J Street U’s Oberlin chapter and College sophomore, said, “On the whole, there is a wide range of opinions among J Street U students. And there’s a number of different approaches and ways that I think a lot of students come at it. I would venture to say that most students have a pretty nuanced opinion about it and wouldn’t be black or white one way or the other. However, J Street as an organization’s statement about BDS is that they are opposed to it.”

J Street U supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, while BDS supports the Palestinian right of return, which would inhibit a two-state solution. Fleischacker is concerned with the phrasing of BDS, which doesn’t explicitly support Israel’s right to exist, the effectiveness of BDS and the polarization this type of tactic may encourage.

“I don’t personally see … that anytime in the near future the United States is going to take the approach that we’re going to boycott Israel or divest from Israeli companies,” Fleischacker said. “I just don’t see that happening, mostly because I know that currently American Jewish communities have a huge influence on what the U.S. government does related to Israel, and I don’t foresee the mainstream Jewish American population getting behind this.”

SFP stated that the on-campus response to the petition so far has been either hesitance or positivity, and have been surprised by the lack of negative feedback. Fleischacker, however, feels that some students have been alienated by it.

“My concern about BDS is that it furthers the polarization between students who might consider themselves pro-Israel and students who might consider themselves pro-Palestinian,” said Fleischacker. “What we really need to be doing is creating conversation and dialogue between those students, and also on the ground of creating negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.”